Review: Black Coffee

Black Coffee
Black Coffee by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #1 for 2017
GenreLand: Fiction
Better World Books Tasks:
– A book with a color in the title
– A book under 200 pages
– A book by a female writer
– A book that’s been adapted into a movie
Read Harder Task: A book published between 1900 and 1950
PopSugar Tasks:
– A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
– A book written by someone you admire
– A book with an eccentric character
– A book that’s mentioned in another book
Book Bingo Square: A Book from the Library
Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A script or screenplay
Follow the Clues Challenge: Chain 1, Clue 1

This, Christie’s first foray into writing for the stage, usually appears on bibliographies with a 1934 date. That was when it was first published, but it was first produced in 1930. Christie had always been fascinated by the theatre, and this had been evident in her stories, so it’s not surprising that she would explore the play form herself instead of leaving it to other writers. This is not an adaptation of an already published story, but an original Poirot piece, later adapted to the big screen and also novelized.

I have read the Osborne novelization, probably not long after it first came out. I don’t really remember much about it, but of course it’s likely that I did subconsciously remember some of the elements of the plot, which might be why this puzzle seemed rather simple to me. It’s also possible that Christie meant for the solution to be a bit obvious to the audience so that Poirot, arriving on scene later and putting it all together without the benefit of having actually witnessed certain things, would seem just that much more brilliant.

I regret that I’m not familiar enough with early 20th-century plays to know if this script was particularly notable or innovative in any way. The contemporary reviews I’ve glanced through seem to be mixed but generally favorable. I think it’s extremely interesting that Christie was writing about atomic weapons in 1930 — and I found the ending particularly satisfying in this regard — but that’s something many reviewers seem to ignore. I’m not sure why.

As I continue in my “completist Christie challenge,” I’m looking forward to watching Christie’s development as a playwright as well as a novelist. I would recommend this to Christie readers and theatre fans in general, but I will warn you that it’s full of typos — in three different languages, no less. I’m not sure if that’s normal for a play that’s been around for nearly 90 years, but some readers may find this too annoying to bother with.

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Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #65 for 2016
PopSugar Challenge Task: A National Book Award winner
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Modest Reading Challenge Task: A book that was banned at some point

I wasn’t really looking forward to reading this book. It’s about a teenage boy struggling to fit in at a new high school. That isn’t the sort of thing that appeals to me. But in this semi-autobiographical tale of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, Alexie offers a unique perspective that is entertaining, touching, and thought-provoking. It isn’t a long story, but he explores issues of race, bullying, substance abuse, poverty, and sexuality as well as the meaning of friendship and the general awkwardness of being a teenage boy.

I listened to this on CD, so I didn’t see the illustrations, but I think I’m okay with that. I’m not much of a cartoon person to begin with, and my understanding is that Alexie didn’t do the illustrations himself. If I happen upon a hard copy, I’ll probably take a look, but it’s not something I will actively seek out. As it is, I highly recommend the audio version. Alexie narrates, and the rhythm and flow of his Native American speech patterns add a lot to the story, making Junior’s emotional struggles feel genuine and straightforward.

It angers me that this book has been challenged and even flat-out banned in at least one school district. And kudos to those involved in getting free copies into the hands of students who were the victims of that move. I would recommend this book to any teen, but especially to ones who could use either representation of or exposure to the issues faced by Native American students. Evidently, there are quite a few adults who could stand to read it as well.

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Review: Armageddon Dimes

Armageddon Dimes
Armageddon Dimes by Aaron Michael Ritchey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #64 for 2016
PopSugar Challenge Task (part 2 of 2): A book and its prequel.

For a short prequel, this novella does an impressive job of providing glimpses of characters’ backstories as well as a new perspective on the conflicts that led up to the action in Dandelion Iron. The frame story, a series of interviews with war veteran Mariposa, goes beyond showing how badass she and her comrades were. It also shows the emotional impact the war and her later adventures ultimately had on all of them. This is a tragic tale, full of horrors of various kinds, but mostly of the spirit.

Fans of Wren Weller will be interested to know that we see an interesting side of her here, and we also get some hints about Cavatica’s role in later books. I’m looking forward to reading Killdeer Winds, but it seems there are also two other prequels I need to find: Trapdoor Boy and Four Clubs.

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A Short Story Challenge

Yes, I’ve joined another challenge. But this one isn’t about books. At least, not specifically about books. It’s about short stories. A thousand of them, to be exact. In a year. Well, we’ll see about that. For myself, I may end up making this a perpetual challenge to see how long it takes me to read 1,000 short stories, then seeing if I can shorten the length of time it takes me to read another 1,000 short stories.

This challenge was posed by writer Travis Richardson, and the Twitter hashtag is #1000storychallenge, so you can join in or at least follow along and see how we’re doing. I’m grateful for this challenge because I feel like I’ve strayed from my short story roots. I’ve been focused on novels the past several years, but once upon a time I wrote lots of short stories. I even submitted many of them, and some of them saw publication. I had a sort of natural storytelling flow of about 2,500 words. But now I try to write something to a submission guideline of 5,000 to 10,000 words, and I feel cramped and stifled. More often than not I give up and declare it the start of another novel. But I’m set for novel starts at the moment and would rather avoid starting more until I get one out into the world.

So yes, I would like to get back into the mode of writing short stories to the point that I always have at least one out for submission. The Missouri Review just announced their contest winners, so my current-submission count is officially zero. But reading short stories, besides helping me get back into that concise rhythm, gives me exposure to more markets to try. Considering what a long-shot my TMR contest entry was — I wonder if their staff had ever before had to read a steampunk machine of death story — this is something I desperately need.

On Joining the Legendary Book Club of Habitica

Apparently I didn’t actually join the Legendary Book Club of Habitica when I joined the guild’s 2016 Modest Reading Challenge. Or maybe I did and they kicked me out because I didn’t post enough? But I did complete the challenge, which was a mere 12 books. Anyway, when I went to look at the 2017 challenges, I made sure to join the guild. And this year I decided to attempt the Ultimate Reading Challenge, which is 52 books.

I know, I know, I said I was done joining annual challenges, but I took a peek at this one and realized that it’s composed almost entirely of tasks I already have for other challenges. So I would be a fool not to join. A fool, I say! So, here are the 52 tasks (in no particular order):

  • A book with a red spine
  • A book set in two different time periods
  • The oldest book in your TBR pile/list
  • A book with a month or day of the week in the title
  • A book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending
  • A book set around a holiday other than Christmas/Yule/Hannakuh/Kwanzaa/Festivus/etc
  • A book about a topic you already love – Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: The Book by Joss Whedon et al
  • A book set in a hotel
  • A book in translation
  • A book that takes place over a character’s life span
  • A book you never finished
  • A book that is mentioned in another book
  • A book set somewhere you’ve never been but would like to visit
  • A book recommended by an author you love
  • A book with a single-word title
  • The first book in a series that you haven’t read before
  • A book about food
  • A book about a difficult topic
  • A book with a subtitle
  • A script or screenplay – Black Coffee by Agatha Christie
  • A book by an author who goes by at least one of their initials instead of their name
  • A book with a family-member term in the title
  • A book involving a mythical creature
  • A book featuring something that doesn’t normally talk doing so
  • A book with a cat on the cover
  • A book that is set within 100 miles of your location
  • A book by a person with a disability
  • A classic by a non-European author
  • A book with multiple authors
  • A book based on mythology
  • A book that is a frame story
  • A Newbery Award winner
  • A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
  • A book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color
  • A book with a title that has a character’s name
  • A collection of stories by a woman
  • A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
  • A book of letters or about letters
  • A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited
  • A book with one of the four seasons in the title
  • A book you loved as a child
  • A book recommended by a librarian or bookseller
  • A book with pictures
  • A book that you can finish in a day
  • A book with a chase scene – Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • A book by an indigenous person
  • A book set in the wilderness
  • A book published before you were born
  • A book from a non-human perspective
  • A book nominated for an award in 2017
  • A book with career advice
  • A book of any genre that addresses current events

Since double-dipping is discouraged in this challenge, and I have to mark a task as completed in order to get the xp for it, I’m going to be declaring each task as it is completed and just hope it works out well. Most of these I have a pretty good idea what I’m going to read, but a few are new tasks. Like “a book with a chase scene.” Anybody have any suggestions for that one?

Review: A Bad Day for Pretty

A Bad Day for Pretty
A Bad Day for Pretty by Sophie Littlefield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #63 for 2016
PopSugar Challenge Task: A book set in your home state
Personal Challenge Task: A book set in a place I know well

C’mon, Sophie, do a fellow Missouri girl a solid and explain to me why you took roughly 1/3 of the State of Missouri and smooshed it down into one fictional county that is apparently tiny enough to require a mere 25 or so (and that’s a generous estimate) sworn deputies? Because it’s driving me absolutely bonkers! Seriously, I don’t know if I can read any more in this series, which is a damn shame, because I really like Stella and her people. I know these folks. They’re very real to me, and I like visiting them in this fashion. (The alternative is to attend my 30-year high school reunion this year, and that’s a little too real for me right now.)

I’m not sure how much of my 3-star rating is due to my continued geographical frustrations and how much is due to a feeling that this follow-up to A Bad Day for Sorry just wasn’t as good. There seemed to be a lot of little things that added up to a sense of disappointment. Like a lifelong Missouri resident with twister-based PTSD not knowing the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. How is that even possible? Goat should have known better, too.

But the mystery itself and its investigation felt weak, and Brandy’s character was almost as inconsistent as NewQuarter01 in Alif the Unseen. She also did not seem at all like any kind of love interest ever for Goat, not even a young and stupid Goat. But he supposedly fell for her as a mature adult? Not buying it.

Still, it was a fun ride as long as I turned off my internal cartographer, and Littlefield touched on some interesting issues, like the trend of elderly oxy addicts that has kind of blindsided the substance abuse treatment community. I’d like to read more in the series, but for my sanity’s sake, I just can’t make it a priority.

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More 2017 Reading Challenges

Okay, the first week of 2017 has already come and gone (and Betty White is still alive!) so it’s time to nail down my reading challenge goals for the year. dff0b868f44a5487f22365767ea081d0

The aforementioned Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Challenge have both been updated for 2017.

Book Riot specifically states that double-dipping is acceptable for Read Harder, so I may do a little bit of that, but I will still try not to. The method I plan to use is to note all applicable categories when I finish/review the book, but I won’t officially declare the book for the category unless it doesn’t fit any other categories for that challenge. Needlessly complicated? Probably. That’s just how I roll.

For Shaunesay’s AWSFF Challenge, I am shooting for the Orion level (9 to 12 novels). (Shooting…stars….get it? ::sigh::) The categories only come into play for the bingo games, and Shaunesay is clear that not only may a book not count for more than one bingo square, it may not count for more than one bingo. I will definitely be giving bingo a try on the card that is a holdover from the 2016 challenge, but I doubt I will get very far on the Grand Master bingo cards. I’ve printed them out and will see how it goes, but I don’t hold out much hope for success there, as most of the GMs on the cards are not ones I’m already intending to read this year.

Speaking of bingo, there’s a Goodreads challenge group for 2017 Book Bingo. It has a lot of crossover to other challenges, and (unless the rules explicitly prohibit it) I always permit myself to count a book across multiple challenges, so this one should be relatively easy. So far I’ve finished two books for 2017, and I can fit both of them onto this board, which bodes well.

Another challenge with a game board is my local library’s GenreLand Challenge. It doesn’t have signups and prizes like the library’s summer challenge does, but it’s a nice low-pressure way to read eclectically throughout the year.

There’s another category-based challenge I’m doing since it also has a fair amount of crossover to other challenges. It’s from online book shop Better World Books, which is partially to blame for the fact that my library is measured in tons.

And I had better stop there, so I’ll wrap up with a quick reminder that the three (okay, maybe four if I make good on that threat to host a cat-cover challenge) reading challenges that I am hosting can be found in my new Goodreads group, Challenges from Exploding Steamboats. Invite all your Goodreads friends and frenemies!